‘Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings’ Is A Higher Level Chinese Fantasy | Film news

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For flights of pure, high-level fantasy, embellished with labyrinthine political intrigue, punctuated with dazzling martial arts sequences and sprinkled with strange magic and mythology, it’s hard to get past the Detective Dee movies.

Directed by revered filmmaker Tsui Hark (Once upon a time in china), which has been the beating heart of Hong Kong cinema for decades now, are the kind of films that make you realize just how lukewarm, if not shy, the English-speaking screen fantasy has grown, dutifully reiterating the tired tropes of Tolkien-esque epic fantasy or YA fodder derived from Rowling with little variation. Catch a Detective Dee flipping through after subsisting on that batch is like taking a spoonful of hot pepper after a year of cold porridge – your senses just aren’t ready for the sudden shock.

Our setting is 7e century in China and our hero is Di Renjie, a supernaturally gifted investigator on par with Sherlock Holmes in analytical skills, and far surpassing Detective Doyle in martial arts prowess. When we first met him in 2009 Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, where he was played by Andy Lau, is a rebel imprisoned for challenging Empress Wu Zetian (Carina Lau). After a number of Imperial officials died after catching fire, Dee (technically Di, but let’s go with the title convention) was released from prison and put on the case, ultimately uncovering a massive magical plot. targeting the Empress herself.

The next film in the series, Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon (2013) is a prequel, with Mark Chao taking the title role. Set on the cusp of Dee’s crime-fighting career, it sees the young detective investigating a sea monster that has attacked the Imperial Fleet and uncovering another occult conspiracy with evil designs on the throne.

But this is the third movie, Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings, which is defined after Rise of the sea dragon but before Mystery of the Phantom Flame (a bit like the James Bond films, do not hesitate to take a Detective Dee with any installment). For his work in the last film, Dee (Chao again) won praise from the Emperor (Chien Sheng), who presents him with what will become his signature weapon, the Dragon-Taming Mace, which can smash any object. This angered Empress Wu Zetian (again Carina Lau), who commissioned a coterie of mercenary wizards to steal the weapon.

From there, it’s another labyrinthine plot that at various points includes a vengeful sect of Indian mystics, a number of ruthless and acrobatic assassins, a magically animated dragon statue, a giant albino gorilla, and enough backdrops. incredible martial arts, monsters and mayhem for even the most jaded action fan.

If it sounds messy it is a bit of the case, but Tsui’s kitchen sink approach to conspiracy and spectacle means there is never a dull moment – we’re never just about it. ‘to a scene of one dizzying revelation or another, and the sheer inventiveness displayed is simply jaw-dropping. Our man Dee is a cop operating in a world where magic happens, monsters exist, gods are real, and imperial power is absolute, and while all of these ingredients are essential to the movies’ unique flavor, maybe it is. be the latter who is most needed.

In a world where emperors rule like gods, Dee is both a moral man and a mortal, and his first duty is to deliver justice. As the agents of the base of the Tang Dynasty in China strive to consolidate imperial power, Dee strives to bring the evildoers to justice, even if it embarrasses or hinders the throne – which is why he is got banged in jail when we first met him. Remove all the glare, spectacular fight choreography and high concept fantasy, and the Detective Dee The series is really about how power is exercised and the price to pay when ethics are privileged over that power. Which makes Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings a cut above the rest of its kind in terms of thematic weight.

It’s not yet clear if we’ll see a fourth Dee outing, but with the prolific Tsui calling the shots, it’s a safe bet that we’ll be visiting the right sleuth before long. Until then, sink your teeth into this one, a joyous historical OTT adventure whose sheer demented imagination leaves its gender comrades in the dust.

Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings is now airing on SBS On Demand.


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